Daily Archives: September 2, 2015

Why Squish Our Breasts at Mammograms? Can We Find a Better Way?

Note: I encourage women to get regular mammogram screenings. They are uncomfortable, but believe me, early detection can prevent far more painful experiences. And you’re tough—you’ve got this. Meanwhile, let me share in my hyperbolic, humorous way about my own recent mammogram.

I diligently get annual mammogram screenings. With cancer in my family and having lost a close friend to breast cancer, I’m a believer in early detection. I had my screening last week, and for the first time ever got a follow-up call asking me to come back for a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound because the radiologist had seen something suspicious on the film.

I made my appointment for early the next morning and told myself to ignore the anxiety humming in my chest for the rest of the day. There are many more false positives than real reasons to worry, but I still found myself thinking What if…?

I’ll spoil the ending right here and say that everything is absolutely fine. No bad news. Which is good news!

But my experience was not so good.

While I think screening mammograms are uncomfortable, I’ve never found them particularly painful. Not so with the follow-up! I walked into the room, wearing the usual pink shawl, and listened to the mammo tech explain what they’d seen and what pictures she’d take for the radiologist. It was all very kind and professional . . . right up until “just drop the shawl off your shoulder.” Then IT began.

Why Squish Our Breasts at Mammograms? Can We Find a Better Way?

Once they’ve seen something on the film, they are determined to get a super-great shot of your breast. Which means that tech is willing to grab, yank, and squish my body into that machine with all the force of a pro-wrestler. Once I’m properly sandwiched between the two plates that hold you in place, she turns the dial to tighten the grip. And turns . . . and turns . . . and turns.

Holy flapjacks, that hurts. Then she gives this helpful advice: “Now don’t move.” As If I Could! What, like I’m going try to back away, leaving my ta-ta clenched in the machine? My breasts aren’t taffy — believe me, I ain’t movin’.

She leaves me to push the button and take the picture, with the admonition “Don’t breathe, don’t breathe, don’t breathe.” Not sure if I could anyway, what with my lungs scurrying away for fear of being next on the hit list.

When the machine opens, it’s like a breath of fresh air . . . in Hawaii. Aaaaaahhh.

But I relax too soon. Because we ain’t done. She’s taking six views, and every one will be slap-your-mama painful.

Here’s a tip for those who must have this lovely experience: Don’t. Look. Down. That’s the same advice you’d get standing on a high building with a fear of heights, but in this case you don’t get that oh-dear-I’m-going-to-fall feeling; rather, you realize just how malleable your breast really is and how far it can be flattened. You’ll immediately want to send your boobage a sympathy card. It’s a wonder that breast bounces back at all.

All this left me wondering: Is there really not a better way? In a world where I can text Japan and print a 3-D house model and get directions from my car’s GPS to a pedicure spa in an unfamiliar city (yes, I did that last one) . . . surely we can come up with some other way to scan a breast for cancerous tissue!

How about a GoFundMe campaign for a Magic Wand Mammogram, which works by waving a stick in the vicinity of your girls? Maybe it could be a dual-purpose machine, like a Body Tanner/Mammogram — where you’d get a full body tan while they also check up on your lady parts? How about treating mammograms like a car wash, where I simply sit in a chair and get pushed through a tunnel that scans my breasts as I pass by?

I came from the generation that witnessed and adored the first Terminator movie. I understand the Rise of the Machines. But I don’t think it will come in the form of a human-shaped robot or shape-shifting liquid metal.

Oh no, I now fear the Rise of the Mammogram Machine. Just imagine the havoc that could be wreaked by a mammogram machine rum amok in our cities, randomly snapping at women’s breasts with all the gentleness of an elephant charging in the jungle. Whole towns could be shut down by women refusing to go outside and face the “Pancake Monsters.” Or at least a few Bunco groups would get canceled. Imagine the tragedy!

I hear our local diagnostic center is getting 3-D imaging very soon. I don’t know how much that will improve the experience. But I think I’ll take their comment card and write a few helpful suggestions like:

  • How about giving me a free massage after the diagnostic mammogram to loosen my muscles and make me forget the soreness in my chest?
  • Could you print and pass out stickers or T-shirts that say, I Survived the Mammogram Machine Invasion of 2015?
  • When I disrobe in the exam room, could someone at least throw me a string of colorful beads?

What adds insult to injury is that my deductible was not met, so I actually paid $164 for this joyful encounter. That could have been a nice dinner and an overnight hotel stay with the hubster — in which my private places would have gotten very different and far more enjoyable attention.

Oh well, I’m willing to do what it takes to keep everything in working order. The end result is I did survive, I’m only a little sore, and it was all benign. Besides, I have full year to recover before I get up-close-and-personal with the mammogram machine again. Let’s hope next year is just the usual, uncomfortable screening.